May 17, 2012 by Alex Counts
Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World. On Wednesday, May 9, I had the pleasure of attending a book signing event at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City. Meera Gandhi, a long-time Grameen Foundation donor and volunteer whose husband Vikram sits on our Board of Directors, has come out with a beautiful and moving book. It is titled simply Giving Back. I was fortunate to arrive early enough that I was able to get my copy signed early, and didn’t have to wait in the long line that formed later. The book tracks the long philanthropic journey that Meera has been on by profiling 75 organizations – including Grameen Foundation – that she and her family have backed. It is a diverse group that she divides into four broad categories: women’s rights, children’s issues, protecting the environment/battling disease and poverty, and promoting culture and the arts. She believes so deeply that those of us who are blessed should give back to society that she has created the Giving Back Foundation to help carry on the work described in the book and a related film of the same title. Grameen Foundation is proud to be one among so many outstanding organizations profiled in Giving Back. Walking through the Museum’s atrium, I met many people who are involved in organizations that have been touched by Meera over the years. It was a uplifting and humbling experience. I was also interviewed twice on camera, including once by International Television Broadcasting, Inc. (ITV). I met a woman associated with the Birch Wathen/Lenox School, which is profiled in the book. My brother attended this school in the 1980s, and I was pleased to be invited to speak there this coming fall. (Meera spoke there previously and the students loved it!) One of the best sections of the book is a brief one titled, “How to Find a Charity that Speaks to You.” I’d recommend her advice to anyone, especially those just beginning their own philanthropic journey. In this mini-chapter, she asks the reader a series of questions about their preferences in such areas as gift-giving, and then suggests how different answers might affect the way that someone can engage most productively and enjoyably in philanthropy. Her basic message is this: Find both a cause and a way of engaging with it that excites and motivates you. It’s a simple and powerful idea. What is clear from Meera’s writing and actions is that “giving back” – when done thoughtfully and in the right spirit – does not leave the donor with less, but rather with more.